NTSB Finding Reassessed -- Case To Reopen, Decades After...

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When a Piedmont Airlines 727 and a Cessna 310 collided over North Carolina in July 1967, all 82 people on both aircraft died in the crash, and the pilot of the Cessna was blamed. But Paul Houle, a truck fleet manager whose hobby is historical research, looked into the facts and came to a different conclusion. Now, the NTSB has agreed to take another look at the midair. It's unusual for someone who has no relation to a case to have their petition heard by the safety board, especially after so much time has elapsed. Houle claims it was the 727 crew (which may have been dealing with a fire in an ashtray) and air traffic controllers who made mistakes, not the Cessna pilot (who radioed a heading and apparently held it). Houle also questions the impartiality of the safety board at the time, finding some potential conflicts of interest not immediately defensible to the casual observer. The accident was the first major investigation undertaken by the board, which had formed as an independent agency only three months before. Ties to the FAA may have caused reluctance to place blame with controllers, Houle says. He also found that one member of the board was the brother of a Piedmont vice president. Transcripts show the Piedmont crew was distracted by a fire in a cockpit ashtray about 35 seconds before the collision, he told The Spartanburg Herald-Journal, a fact that was not mentioned in the NTSB report. The newspaper site has several more links to video, audio, and other historical information about the crash, which remains the worst in the state's history.